Thursday, November 08, 2007

Sue Nott and Karen McNeil on Mt. Foraker - so what happened?

Unsolved mysteries bug me. Unsolved mysteries of what happened to two of the most accomplished female mountaineers in the world just drives me around the bend.

A year and a half ago, Sue Nott and Karen McNeil were attempting a climb of Mt Foraker's Infinite Spur route, Foraker is right near Denali in Alaska. Due to being located very North, the mountains in Alaska are formidable. Their position on the planet makes their effective altitude much higher that their actual elevation (need to find a good reference for that). Mt Foraker may only be 17,000', but it's one seriously tough mountain and the route that they were on is one of the most difficult. However Nott and McNeil are excellent mountaineers and excel at difficult climbs.

They never came back from Foraker, and while some evidence was found (a dropped backpack) they were never found and what actually happened to them is well, a mystery.

I've keep a Google Alert on "Sue Nott Foraker" ever since then hoping to hear more (how funny, this blog entry will show up there). Here's the latest which is an excellent recap of the Park Service's report:

There is some new speculation. The lost pack was probably dropped as there's no blood on it. They are convinced that they saw foot tracks much higher on the summit, but saw no such foot prints on the decent. Well informed conjecture is that they dropped the pack by accident at 11,500', aborted the climb, but instead of descending they decided to go up and then down a much easier route, but died in the attempt and are likely in a snow cave near the summit.

Ok that's more answers than I had before but I still want to go find them even if it was to leave them in peace. I wish ground penetrating radar was more portable. I'm sure the families would likely want their bodies to remain there as it's probably what Nott and Foraker would have chosen (that's pure speculation as I've met neither of them). But honestly what happened? Finding their bodies and what they left behind (especially any notes or photos) what they lacked and what they had plenty of, would answer a lot of questions.

But listen to me "talk." I may be in excellent shape but I've never climbed any real mountain in Alaska (though I have spent a week on the Ruth Glacier there in a mountaineering course. I also tend to get altitude sick easy though if I spend enough time at altitude I'm usually ok. Also as they inadvertently demonstrated, Foraker is a really dangerous mountain. I suppose you could go up an easier way but then you have to descend some of the Infinite Spur route and then where do you start looking? I'm sure the Forest Service has some idea, but I doubt they would support such a thing that someone who has never climbed an Alaska mountain would propose.

If I were serious about it I probably should talk to Eric Simmonson head of International Mountain Guides and author of Detectives on Everest who is trying to answer the same questions about what happened to Irvine and Mallory.

I think one way to show (and to see if) I was at all serious about such an endeavor is to go on one of IMGs Rainier Climbs and see how that goes. Eric would likely not be there, but would probably be within contact and they and I could see how well I do. They have a ton of Rainier Climbs scheduled and I was thinking of doing one of those after ski season any way.


matt said...

Any updates on this? Thanks!

Ellen said...

I've kept that Google alert in place and the only hits I've gotten on it are older articles being moved around on their web sites, but I'm staying tuned.

Anonymous said...

Karen McNeil was not an accomplished female mountaineer. She was way out of her league on that route.

Ellen said...

How do you know that? Did you climb with her?